Studying lockdown impacts on grief

Investigating the impact of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions on individuals' and family/whanau...
Investigating the impact of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions on individuals' and family/whanau experiences of loss, grief and bereavement are (from left) University of Otago project co-supervisor Richard Egan, student researcher Rhiannon Dew, and principal investigator Lis Heath. PHOTO: JESSICA WILSON
A new project is investigating the impact of dealing with grief, bereavement and loss during last year’s lockdown restrictions.

University of Otago student researcher Rhiannon Dew received an Otago Medical School Dean’s Research Scholarship to investigate the impact Covid-19 restrictions had on people who lost a loved one during Alert Levels 3 and 4 in New Zealand.

The aim was to explore the impact restrictions had on individuals or family/whanau experiences of loss, grief and bereavement.

The results of the project would help inform bereavement support services, influence healthcare provider policies for future pandemic planning, and raise awareness among healthcare providers about the needs of friends and family/whanau when caring for people near the end of life.

Ms Dew hopes to interview six to 10 people who lost a loved one between March 23 and May 13 last year.

Principal investigator Lis Heath, of the university’s department of medicine, said those who experienced loss during that period were hindered by travel and visiting restrictions.

They may not have been able to hold their loved one’s hand, say goodbye, or have the support of their friends and family.

"So, a lot of people would have had to grieve in isolation in their bubbles and we’re interested in the impact of that on their bereavement outcomes."

During levels 3 and 4 last year, there were 2509 deaths in New Zealand.

"International research suggests that for every person who dies another nine people are affected."

That indicated that the "grief toll" for the country during that time frame was 22,581.

Ms Dew, a fourth year medical student with a background in radiation therapy, would conduct the interviews at a mutually convenient time and place.

Depending on location, this could be done in person or online.

The interview would take 45-60 minutes, and questions would be sent to people beforehand so they could prepare.

Since it could be an emotional topic for people, they would be given a list of support services to access if needed.

They may also be reimbursed the cost of a general practitioner service.

Participants must be over the age of 18 and have lost a loved one in level 3 or 4.

Project co-supervisor Richard Egan said if people knew their loved one was terminally ill, they might have imagined being by their side when they died.

He has already heard from a few people who had to delay funeral and tangihanga, and how difficult it was not being able to carry out the usual customs and rituals.

While the project was based in Otago and Southland for now, Dr Egan hoped it could be national one day.

Anyone interested in being part of the project can contact Ms Dew at


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